My father didn’t raise me; he was gone for most of my childhood. Before he disappeared, we made many happy memories together. Trips to the beach, where I could play on the swings and the slide. Getting soft ice cream in a dixie cup at Magic Fountain, and racing to eat it before it melted in the hot summer sun. Dad teaching me to skip while he sang “Skip to my Lou.” (My young ears heard it as “Skip to Maloo.” Maloo? Where’s that?)
One of our favorites destinations was a toy store called Tic Tac Toys, which located on the improbably named Love Lane in Mattituck, NY. Dad bought me a funny-looking stuffed duck, with yellow feathers, eyes that bugged out the sides of his head, and disproportionately short wings. I named him Disco Duck. Mom hated that ugly thing… which only made me love it more.
Dad moved to Boston when I was six or seven. This coincided with the time my mother married my stepfather. I would get cards on Birthdays and at Christmastime, with personal messages scrawled inside, in Dad’s infamous chicken scratch. I always felt awkward when I opened them, because my mother, Grandma and Grandpa would read them as well, and make fun of whatever he had to say. They referred to him as “Dopey.” They expected me to share their opinion of my father. I didn’t know how I really felt. Eventually, the cards stopped coming.
Fast forward thirty years or so, when my Dad and I were finally reunited, thanks to a 1-800 number I’d heard on the radio: “We can find ANYBODY, or your money back!”
I’d tried to find Dad myself, when I was nineteen and old enough to form my own opinion about the man who was my father. I hit a dozen dead ends. (Although I discovered he– I— had a huge family out west.) So I’d almost given hope of ever finding him.
There was a good reason I had such a hard time tracking him down; he was homeless for many years. He lived in shelters and under bridges. Finally, he was “rescued” by an organization called Pine Tree Inn. They reach out to the homeless population in New England, giving them a place to live, and even job training. Dad was living in one of their rooming houses in the Dorchester area when I found him.
Our reunion was a bittersweet one, full of awkward hugs and long pauses in conversation. I had dozens of of questions bottled up inside me… only to have them scatter like spilled marbles once I was actually face-to-face with Dad.
To make matters worse, I’d learned that my father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. He couldn’t tell me much about his current life or his recent past. He tried to introduce me to friends of his in the neighborhood, but had trouble remembering their names. Yet, he could tell me the detailed story of how he and my mother drove from Seattle to Long Island, NY in the middle of winter when I was just a baby. His long-term memory was excellent, but he had little or no retention of Now.
Besides the Alzheimer’s, my father is afflicted with Parkinson’s. His hands shake so badly, I was amazed he could feed himself. He is unable to write back to me when I send him cards and letters. I’ve begged him more than once to please dictate messages for me, and have a trusted friend write it down and mail it to me. Let’s just say my dad doesn’t trust a whole lot of people. 99% of the communication between me and my father has actually been by way of his care team in the nursing home where he is now. I am his health care proxy. They are obligated to let me know everytime he falls. This happens often, as he’s not supposed to stand up without nurses’ assistance. As soon as their backs are turned, he’s up out of his wheelchair, and down he goes.
I’ve only visited Dad twice since I found him again. My budget doesn’t afford the luxury of traveling from Watertown, NY to Boston often, especially since I don’t drive. The two times I went to see him, it was with my ex-husband. But a recent turn of events has forced me into action. In spite of some pretty huge obstacles, I must make a trip to Boston… all by myself.
I don’t know too many details yet, but it seems Dad recently had a brain aneurysm. I’m not sure how much this latest medical malady has affected his ability to function, but things aren’t looking too good; dad has now entered Hospice care. It felt weird to me, giving consent for this; I’ve always associated Hospice with the end stages of cancer. The small piece of good news in all this is that Dad still remembers he has a daughter. Maybe he doesn’t remember my name, and maybe he he won’t recognize me when I walk into the room, but I must do this. Partly because I didn’t get a chance to say “goodbye” to my mother, who died in a car accident in 2006. Another reason is the guilt I feel for not making an effort to see him more. That guilt would be greatly augmented if Dad passed away before I got there. That’s why I’m not waiting for warmer weather; it had crossed my mind to put it off ‘til his birthday in April. I decided I don’t want to take that risk. Time is precious and fleeting, and tomorrow is never promised.
And so, I will face my phobia of train travel and try to work around my penchant for getting hopelessly lost (If I were a lab rat, I’d never find my way out of the maze), and trust in my Higher Power to keep me safe on this trip. I know I have angels on my side here on earth (they know who the are). Hopefully, I have some “Up There” as well, looking out for me and Dad.